Monday, February 11, 2013

Author/teacher team up!

I received this email a month or so ago...

Dear Meg -
I've been reading your blog on Kindles in the classroom and was wondering if you are interested in a collaboration of sorts.  I've recently published a Young Adult novel, Time's Twisted Arrow:  Book One of the CHRONOS Files.  One Amazon reviewer summed it up nicely, so I'll borrow her words: "Part science fiction, part historical novel, part young romance, mystery and action, all fast paced and riveting."  The book has been well-received and got a very positive review from Kirkus Reviews this past month.  It's currently at #25 on the Teen Historical fiction list at Amazon -- although that list is so volatile that it could be up or down by the time you read this!  :) 

Here's where the collaboration part comes in.  Rysa Walker is my pen name -- in my "day job," I'm Cheryl Walniuk, professor of history (with a focus on women's history) and government online for the University of Maryland's University College.  I also develop online learning modules for our courses.  As a history professor, one of the constant issues I face with incoming students is a lack of familiarity with primary sources.  Many of our students seem never to have encountered the concept, so I was delighted to see that the new Common Core standards are stressing primary sources.  One of my key goals in writing this series is to awaken young readers' interest in history by pulling in interesting events in American history and weaving them into the type of novel that appeals to most teen readers.   

Given that you teach in a private school, you may not be dealing with the Common Core, but I noticed that Harpeth Hall does emphasize cross-discipline learning.  So, would you be interested in previewing a video module for possible use in your classes that demonstrates how primary historical sources are used in writing fiction?  The module will focus both on the setting for Time's Twisted Arrow (1893 Chicago World's Fair) and the historical settings for the second book in the series (Gilded Age Boston & Depression-era South).  Both books focus on women's history and African-American history.  
I have also started a blog related to the series, where the emphasis is on imagining how events from our past will be viewed by writers in the future.  It is in its infancy right now, but the eventual goal is to serve as an outlet for student writers who can take a primary source or two, create their own story, and submit their contributions to the site.  Additional information can be found here. 

I anticipate having the video module finished by the end of February, and I am currently trying to line up some interested educators for a "test run."  If you are interested, either in reading the book or in previewing the module in your classroom, just drop me an email.  I'll send you an Amazon download certificate so that you can take a look at the book and will add you to the list.  

Best wishes, 
Cheryl Walniuk (AKA Rysa Walker)
P.S. If you know other teachers at your school or elsewhere who teach middle or high school and might be interested, please feel free to pass this along to them.  You were one of the first on my list because you are a Kindle advocate, but this is an open invitation.   
Rysa Walker
Time's Twisted Arrow now at Amazon:
More online at The CHRONOS Files:

I jumped on it.  It sounds awesome.  I got the e-book and I have been reading it in small spurts.  I was out on maternity leave last year during this time, so this curriculum is all new to me.  This means that my evenings are spent going through the literature I am teaching more slowly.  My hope is to be able to spend some more time with Time's Twisted Arrow beginning in March.

But I have had a chance to dig in to some of the early chapters of set up.  I like the teenage girl protagonist.  She is navigating a triangle of family relations, her divorced parents and her grandmother.  I like the tease of a romantic plot line to come.  The pace is snappy and there is a balance of humor and levity to go with some of the bigger issues.  If your goal is to teach something, make the vehicle of that lesson the most appealing you can.  That is what I have learned as a teacher.  If what you want to teach is "hard" or at least a "hard sell" then your vehicle needs to be super friendly.  I think this book is doing a good job of that.

Where am I envisioning this going?  A loyal group of readers of e-books is forming and there is some overlap with the creative writing club.  I like Rysa/Cheryl's approach that involves teaching students to be writers and creators of historical fiction.  I am envisioning a group of students using this novel and the material she is preparing as a learning experience both as readers and historians, but also as writers.  To that end, I think that forming a club that would meet during lunch would be the best way to start.  Perhaps a club that is focusing on new works, interacting with text, delving into creative commons writing and e-publishing.  I can't even completely define this group, because these realms are developing so quickly that definitions are shifting and evolving.  I want to gather a group of students and set off into this new territory.  This is exactly the place to start!

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